Meerschweinchen tales told to me by the woman who had raised my mother and then me, I grew up dreading rats. She said, “Rats come and bite you at night. They blow on your ear, nose, fingers, or toes, to cool and numb, so you don’t feel the pain. Thus, people wake up and find out that a part of them is missing.” I guess this pseudo-information became the first step of my introduction to the horror genre.
Later, I read of Black Death in Decameron “if haply any man survive” and the plague of London, and the falsehood of how the plague was carried or caused by rats. Some of the accounts were chilling, to say the least.
The first time I felt any sympathy toward a rat was when I was in my late teens. We lived in a three-story wood-frame house, where for some reason, rats had started to visit. Rat traps were set and a few were caught. After a while, however, a couple of rats that must have learned what the traps were about kept avoiding them.
One day, while I stood at the bottom of the stairs on the first floor, I glimpsed a fat rat coming down the steps. She looked like a queen making its entrance to the grand ballroom. She was chubby and cute and she seemed fearful of nothing, not even me. I stepped aside as she bypassed me and headed toward the downstairs bathroom. I watched her trajectory to find out that the rats were using the toilets and the city’s sewer system to go into the houses. After that, we weighed down the commode lids and the infestation was kept in check.
The real surprise came to me about two years ago while reading a writer’s story on writing.com; the story was about keeping rats as pets, and obviously, this writer had acquired a few of them. Truth is, rats were kept as pets even before the biblical times and the idea that they caused the bubonic plague is false, since it is a flea, not the rat, that was responsible for the plague’s onset.
Rat owners claim that a rat is loyal and loving, and it can easily be proven that a rat is also versatile and intelligent from the way it attacks the birdfeeders even if lacking the acrobatic moves of a squirrel. True, a rat is a non-traditional pet, but watching a couple of rats at play could be quite a joy.
Yet, one must learn a lot about the care of rats before acquiring them as pets. A single rat does not make a good pet, since the rat likes to be with its kind. Rats are observed to be excellent mothers and are loyal to their owners. Many rats are hand raised by breeders to be sold at pet stores, but there are several anecdotes of domesticating wild rats as pets, as well.
The only problem in keeping a pet rat is to find a good vet who is trained in rat medicine. Since rats reproduce very rapidly, they may need to be spayed and neutered.
Rats also need ample space to move around. Keeping any animal in a cramped space like a small cage or aquarium is not humane, anyhow. Some rat toys like the wheel and the maze can be homemade, and better yet, special attention to the animals can be given to get them to interact with their owner.
A good pet rat from a pet store or a breeder costs about $10. Assuming that you will get a couple of animals, that initial cost will be doubled. You’ll need to invest in a large cage and some food. You might also be able to adopt rats from the local pound, labs, or from rat owners’ organizations.